UK Politics

Ministers accused of causing fear for disabled people

Anne McGuire
Image caption Labour's Anne McGuire says ministers are making "outrageous" comments about the disabled

Labour have accused ministers of making "outrageous and outlandish" comments about the disabled and the feeding the comments to the media.

Shadow minister for disability issues Anne McGuire singled out the Work Secretary Ian Duncan Smith for attack.

She claimed, during a Westminster debate, that media stories based on government briefings were causing "fear and uncertainty" for disabled people.

Mr Duncan Smith's department denied ministers were "stigmatising" people.

A Department for Work & Pension spokesman said: "We are very conscious of the language we use as it is clear that the system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependency.

"That is why this government is making such a radical overhaul of the benefits system to restore integrity and ensure that everyone who needs help and support receives it."

Mrs McGuire's comments came during a Commons debate on disability hate crime.

"The feeding to the media of press releases, distortion of figures, calling into question whether people are really disabled has changed the landscape for disabled people out there," she said.

She highlighted a story last month headlined: Parent of a child with ADHD? Have a free car under £1.5bn taxpayer-funded scheme.

'Outlandish comments'

Mrs McGuire said that the story - which she said was corrected afterwards after prompting from a disability organisation - had suggested Mr Duncan Smith "was enraged" to be told by his department that there were no precise numbers on how many people with the condition ADHD received free cars.

She said such articles were having an effect and pointed to research by the Glasgow Media Group which claimed there had been a significant increase in the use of pejorative language to describe disabled people in the media.

The use of terms such as "scrounger", "cheat"' and "skiver" was found in 18% of articles in 2010/11 compared with 12% in 2004/5.

The minister for disabled people, Maria Miller, was listening and Mrs McGuire exempted her from any charge of distorting facts about the disabled.

But she urged the minister to make sure the "language of moderation" was used when talking about disabled people.

"She needs to challenge some of the more outrageous and outlandish comments made by some of her senior colleagues because frankly it is creating an atmosphere out there which is to the greater disadvantage of disabled people and one that is causing fear and uncertainty in their lives."

Mrs Miller told her that "any form of discrimination against the disabled is absolutely unacceptable".

"Disabled people do not want to be treated as victims," she added. "And our starting point always has to be that we have to be clear that they are adequately protected by the law."

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